Howard Andrew Williams (December 3, 1927 – September 25, 2012) was an American popular music singer. He recorded seventeen Gold- and three Platinum-certified albums. He hosted The Andy Williams Show, a TV variety show, from 1962 to 1971, as well as numerous television specials. Most recently, he performed at his Moon River Theatre in Branson, Missouri, which was named after the Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini song "Moon River", with which he is closely identified.
Early life and career[edit source | edit]Edit
Williams was born in Wall Lake, Iowa, the son of Jay Emerson and Florence (née Finley) Williams. Williams attended Western Hills High School in Cincinnati, but finished high school atUniversity High School in West Los Angeles as a result of his family's move to California. He had three older brothers—Bob, Don, and Dick.
Williams' first performance was in a children's choir at the local Presbyterian church. He and his brothers formed The Williams Brothers quartet in late 1938, and they performed on radio in the Midwest, first at WHO in Des Moines, Iowa, and later at WLS in Chicago and WLW in Cincinnati.
Moving to Los Angeles in 1943, The Williams Brothers sang with Bing Crosby on the hit record "Swinging on a Star" (1944). They appeared in four musical films: Janie (1944), Kansas City Kitty (1944), Something in the Wind (1947) and Ladies' Man (1947).
The Williams Brothers were signed by MGM to appear in Anchors Aweigh and Ziegfeld Follies (1945) but before they went before the cameras, the oldest brother Bob was drafted into military service and the group's contract was canceled. Kay Thompson, a former radio star who was now head of the vocal department at MGM, had a nose for talent and she hired the remaining three Williams Brothers to sing in her large choir on many soundtracks for such MGM films as The Harvey Girls (1946). When Bob was done with his military service, Kay hired all four of them to sing on the soundtrack to Good News (1947).
By then, Kay Thompson was tired of working behind the scenes at MGM so, with the four Williams boys as her backup singers and dancers, she formed a nightclub act called Kay Thompson and the Williams Brothers. They made their debut in Las Vegas in 1947 and became an overnight sensation. Within a year, they were the highest paid nightclub act in the world, breaking records wherever they appeared.
Andy Williams revealed in his memoir Moon River and Me that he and Kay became romantically involved while on tour, despite the age difference (he was 19 and she was 38). The act broke up in 1949 but reunited for another hugely successful tour from the fall of 1951 through the summer of 1953. After that the four brothers went their separate ways. A complete itinerary of both tours is listed on the Kay Thompson biography website.
Andy and Kay, however, remained very close, both personally and professionally. She mentored his emergence as a solo singing star. She coached him, wrote his arrangements, and composed many songs that he recorded (including his 1958 Top 20 hit "Promise Me, Love" and, later, "Kay Thompson's Jingle Bells" on his 1964 No. 1 The Andy Williams Christmas Album). Using her contacts in the business, Kay helped Andy land his breakthrough television gig as a featured singer for two-and-a-half years on The Tonight Show starring Steve Allen (it helped that the producer of the series Bill Harbach was Kay's former aide de camp). Kay also got Andy his breakthrough recording contract with Cadence Records (the label's owner Archie Bleyer had gotten early career breaks because of Kay and he owed her a favor). Meanwhile, Andy sang backup on many of Kay's recordings through the 1950s, including her Top 40 hit Eloisebased on her bestselling book about the mischievous little girl who lives at the Plaza Hotel in New York.
Kay also served as a creative consultant and vocal arranger on Andy's three summer replacement network television series in 1957, 1958, and 1959. In the summer of 1961, Kay traveled with Andy and coached him throughout his starring role in a summer stock tour of the musical Pal Joey. Their personal and professional relationship finally ended in 1962 when Andy met and married Claudine Longet and Kay moved to Rome.
Solo career[edit source | edit]EditWilliams at the Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri, 2006
After finally landing a spot as a regular on Tonight Starring Steve Allen in 1954, Williams was signed to a recording contract with Cadence Records, a small label in New York run by conductor Archie Bleyer. His third single, "Canadian Sunset" reached No. 7 in the Top Ten in August 1956, and was soon followed by his only Billboard No. 1 hit—in February 1957—"Butterfly"—a cover of a Charlie Gracie record. "Butterfly" also reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart in May 1957, where it spent two weeks. More hits followed, including "The Hawaiian Wedding Song" (US #11), "Are You Sincere?" (US #3 in February 1958), "The Village of St. Bernadette" (US #7 in December 1959), "Lonely Street" (US #5 in September 1959), and "I Like Your Kind of Love" with Peggy Powers (US #8 in May 1957) before Williams moved to Columbia Records in 1961, having moved from New York to Los Angeles and gaining another hit with "Can't Get Used to Losing You" (US #2). In terms of success on the singles charts, the Cadence era was Williams' peak although songs he introduced on Columbia became much bigger standards. The two top-ten hits from the Cadence era, "Butterfly" and "I Like Your Kind of Love", both sung in a style similar to Elvis Presley, were apparently believed not to suit Williams' later style; they were not included on a Columbia reissue of his Cadence greatest hits of the 1960s. Some of William's recordings sounded like multitracking. He admitted that he had occasionally asked one of his brothers to sing with him to save studio time.
In 1964, Williams ultimately became the owner of the Cadence master tapes, which he occasionally licensed to Columbia, including not only his own recordings, but also those of his fellow Cadence-era labelmates: The Everly Brothers, Lenny Welch, The Chordettes, and Johnny Tillotson. In 1968, although he was still under contract with Columbia for his own recordings, Williams formed a separate company called Barnaby Records to handle not only reissuing of the Cadence material, especially that of the Everly Brothers (one of the first Barnaby LPs was a double LP set of the brothers long out of print Cadence hits) but also new artists. Barnaby also had several Top 40 hits in the 1970s with novelty artist Ray Stevens (who had done a summer replacement show for Williams in 1970), including number-one hits such as "Everything Is Beautiful" in 1970 and "The Streak" in 1974.
Also in 1970, Barnaby signed and released the first album by an unknown singer-songwriter named Jimmy Buffett (Jimmy Buffett Down to Earth) produced by Travis Turk. Columbia was initially the distributor for Barnaby, but later distribution was handled first by MGM Records and then General Recorded Tape. Once Barnaby ceased operating as a working record company at the end of the 1970s, Williams licensed the old Cadence material to various other labels (such as Varese & Rhino in the US) after 1980.
During the 1960s, Williams became one of the most popular vocalists in the country and was signed to what was at that time the biggest recording contract in history. He was primarily an album artist, and at one time he had earned more gold albums than any solo performer except Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis and Elvis Presley. By 1973 he had earned as many as 18 gold album awards. Among his hit albums from this period were Moon River, Days of Wine and Roses (number one for 16 weeks in mid-1963), The Andy Williams Christmas Album, Dear Heart, The Shadow of Your Smile, Love, Andy, Get Together with Andy Williams, and Love Story. These recordings, along with his natural affinity for the music of the 1960s and early 1970s, combined to make him one of the premier easy listening singers of that era. In the UK, Williams continued to reach high chart status until 1978. The albums Can't Help Falling In Love (1970), Andy Williams Show (1970) Home Lovin Man ( No. 1 1971), Solitaire (1973), The Way We Were (1974) and Reflections (1978) all reached the Top 10.
Williams forged an indirect collaborative relationship with Henry Mancini, although they never recorded together. Williams was asked to sing Mancini and Johnny Mercer's song "Moon River" from the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's at the 1962 Oscar Awards. The song won the Oscar and quickly became Williams' theme song; however, because it was never released as a single, "Moon River" was never actually a chart hit for Williams. The next year Williams sang "Days of Wine and Roses" which was written by Mancini and Mercer (this song also won). Two years later, he sang Mancini's "Dear Heart" at the 1965 awards and "The Sweetheart Tree" (also written with Mercer) at the 1966 awards.
On August 5, 1966, the 14-story, 700-room Caesars Palace casino and nightclub opened in Las Vegas, Nevada, with the stage production of "Rome Swings", in which Williams starred. He performed live to a sold-out crowd in the Circus Maximus showroom. He headlined for Caesars for the next twenty years.
In 1968, Columbia released a 45-rpm record of two songs Williams sang at the funeral of Robert F. Kennedy, his close friend: "Ave Maria" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic". These were never released on a long-playing record.
Williams also competed in the teenage-oriented singles market and had several charting hits including "Can't Get Used to Losing You", "Happy Heart", and "Where Do I Begin", the theme song from the 1970 blockbuster film, Love Story. In addition, Williams hit the Top 10 of the UK Singles Chart with "Almost There" (1964), "Can't Help Falling In Love" (1970), "Home Lovin' Man" (1970) and "Solitaire" (1973).
Both Williams and Petula Clark recorded "Happy Heart" around the same time, just prior to his guest appearance on her second NBC-TV special. Unaware that she was releasing the song as a single, he asked to perform it on the show. The exposure ultimately led to his having the bigger hit with the song. The song "Happy Heart" is played during the final scene, and throughout the end credits, of the Danny Boyle film Shallow Grave.
Building on his experience with Allen and some short-term variety shows in the 1950s, he became the star of his own weekly television variety show in 1962. This series, The Andy Williams Show, won three Emmy Awards for outstanding variety program. Among his series regulars were the Osmond Brothers. He gave up the variety show in 1971 while it was still popular and reduced his show to three specials per year. His Christmas specials, which appeared regularly until 1974 and intermittently from 1982 into the 1990s, were among the most popular of the genre. Williams recorded eight Christmas albums over the years and was known as "Mr. Christmas", due to his perennial Christmas specials and the success of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year", which appears on all of his Christmas albums.
Williams hosted the most Grammy telecasts, from the 13th Annual Grammy Awards in 1971 through to the 19th awards in 1977, seven consecutive shows. He returned to television to do a syndicated half-hour series in 1976–1977.
Williams continued to perform live into his 80s. It was this that kept him vital, he said during a 2007 tour of the UK.
National tour success[edit source | edit]Edit
His 1967 recording of "Music to Watch Girls By" became a huge surprise UK hit to a new young television audience in 1999, when it reached No. 9 after being featured in new television advertisements for the Fiat Punto—and later forDiet Pepsi—beating the original peak of No. 33 in 1967. A new generation was reminded of Williams' recordings and a sell-out UK tour followed the success of the single.
He completed a sold-out tour of the United Kingdom and Asia in the winter and summer of 2007, in which he performed at several major concert halls including the Royal Albert Hall, singing, among other classics, Van Morrison's "Have I Told You Lately".
Williams returned to the UK singles charts with his 1963 recording of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" in December 2007, thanks to an advertisement for Marks & Spencer, reaching No. 21 in its first appearance in the British charts, also reaching No. 108 on the EU Top 200. In 2008 he lip-synched the 45-year-old recording to welcome Santa at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
On October 3, 2009, Williams appeared live on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing in London, singing "Moon River" to promote the UK edition of The Very Best of Andy Williams LP, which peaked at No. 10 in the main pop chart.
Moon River Theatre[edit source | edit]Edit
In June 1991, Williams' brother Don invited him to the small Ozarks town of Branson, Missouri. Don Williams at the time was the manager for entertainer Ray Stevens, who had just opened a theatre in Branson. While attending Stevens' show, Williams was encouraged by numerous Branson guests to open a venue in the town. This led Williams to build his own theatre in Branson in time for the 1992 season, eventually opening on May 1, 1992. as the Moon River Theatre. The name came from his signature song. It went on to become the first theatre ever to be featured in Architectural Digest, and also won the 1992 Conservation Award from the State of Missouri.
The theatre was designed to blend with the rough terrain of the Ozark Mountains. Reportedly when Williams was on his way to Big Cedar Lodge one day, he had noticed some rough rock outcroppings and said, "What about these? This could be the entrance." He had originally planned a marble style theatre reminiscence of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, but soon had a change of mind. The Larson Company of Tucson, Arizona, fabricated a section of rock on Missouri's Highway 76 and the theatre was soon engulfed with waterfalls, koi-filled ponds, ferns and trees native to the Ozarks. The inside of the theatre incorporates the outside. Trees and plants are seen throughout the theatre's three lobbies. Oak floors are accompanied by African ribbon-striped mahogany walls that are filled with pictures of the Andy Williams Television Show. Williams' passion for art can be seen throughout as well. From the start of his career, Williams had accumulated several paintings and sculptures and decided to fill his theatre with his collection. Frankenthaler, Diebenkorn, Oldenburg, Pollock, Klee and Moore are a small list of artists whose work is on display at the Moon River Theatre.
The theater's auditorium can accommodate 2,054 people. The seating is stadium-style for the best view. The seats and carpets match Williams' Navajo rug collection and are forest green, magenta, gold and blue. On display inside the auditorium are nineteen Japanese Kimonos. The stage has accommodated numerous shows and guest celebrities. On stage, Williams was joined by Glen Campbell, Ann-Margret, Petula Clark and Charo. The theater has also played host to Phyllis Diller, Pat Boone, The Osmond Family, Robert Goulet, Rich Little, Shari Lewis & Lamb Chop, David Copperfield, Pat Benatar and Broadway on Ice starring Nancy Kerrigan, Tara Lipinski and Rudy Galindo. In November and December of each year, he presented his annual Andy Williams Christmas Show at the theater.
When it first opened, Williams was unique because his was the first non-country act to open in the then-mostly-country music town. It was said he was discouraged by many back home in California from making such a bold move, but that was what he wanted. Other non-country entertainers like Bobby Vinton, Tony Orlando, Wayne Newton and the Osmond Brothers soon followed.
Williams and his theater were featured on three episodes of the soap opera As the World Turns in July 2007 where several characters went to Branson for a concert of "Gwen Munson" held in the Moon River Theatre. The Simpsonsfeatured Williams at his Moon River Theater in an episode titled "Bart on the Road". Nelson Muntz is an Andy Williams fan, and in the episode he forces the gang to make a detour to Branson so he could see his idol. He is reduced to tears as Williams performs "Moon River" during the second encore.
In the spring of 2007 Williams opened the Moon River Grill adjacent to his theater in Branson. The restaurant is decorated in photos from the Andy Williams Television Show with stars including Diana Ross, Elton John and Sammy Davis, Jr. Art is center stage in the restaurant, with works by several artists including Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana.
Politics[edit source | edit]Edit
Williams was close friends with Robert F. Kennedy and his wife Ethel Kennedy, campaigning in 1968 for Kennedy in the Democratic presidential primary races. Williams was among the celebrities who were in Kennedy's entourage in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles where RFK was shot and mortally wounded by Sirhan Sirhan in June 1968. Williams solemnly sang "Battle Hymn of the Republic" at RFK's funeral, at Ethel's request. In August 1969, over a year after Bobby Kennedy's death, Williams and Claudine Longet named their newborn son Bobby after Kennedy. The Williams' friendship with Ethel Kennedy endured, with Williams even serving as escort to Ethel during events in the 1970s. He also raised funds for George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign, performing at benefit concerts On the morning of October 21, 2012, McGovern died at age 90 just four weeks after Williams died.
Despite his association with those Democratic candidates, Williams later said he was a lifelong Republican. In 2009 he was quoted by the Daily Telegraph as accusing President Barack Obama of "following Marxist theory" and "wanting the country to fail". He gave Rush Limbaugh permission to use his recording of the song "Born Free" for the theme to the "Animal Rights Update" on Limbaugh's radio show—in which a portion of the song is then followed by gunfire—saying "Hey, it's fine with me. I love what you're doing with it." The record company later blocked Limbaugh's use of the recording.
Personal life[edit source | edit]Edit
Williams met French-born Claudine Longet when he came to her aid on a Las Vegas road. She was a dancer at the time at the Folies Bergère. They married on December 15, 1961. Over the next eight years they had three children – Noelle, Christian, and Robert.
After a lengthy separation, Williams and Longet divorced in 1975. In March 1976, Longet was charged with fatally shooting her boyfriend, alpine ski racer Spider Sabich, in Aspen. Williams played a public role in the subsequent events, escorting her to and from the courtroom, testifying to her character at the trial and providing legal assistance. Longet claimed the shooting was accidental, and eventually received 30 days in jail. Shortly thereafter, Longet went on vacation in Mexico with her defense attorney, Ron Austin, whom she married in June 1985. They continue to reside in the Aspen area.
On May 3, 1991, Williams married Debbie Meyer, whom he met through a mutual friend. They made their homes at Branson, Missouri and La Quinta, California, where he was known as the "honorary mayor". Williams was a noted collector of modern art and his homes have been featured in Architectural Digest.
Williams was an avid golfer and hosted the PGA Tour golf tournament in San Diego from 1968–88 at Torrey Pines. Then known as the "Andy Williams San Diego Open", the tournament continues as the Farmers Insurance Open, usually played in February.
Williams was a noted collector of Navajo blankets. His collection had hung in his home, his offices, and the Moon River Theater, and was exhibited at the Saint Louis Art Museum in 1997–1998. Williams collection was valued at over $1 million by Sothebys, who are due to sell the collection in May 2013.
Williams' birthplace in Iowa is a tourist attraction and is open most of the year.
Death[edit source | edit]Edit
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In a surprise appearance at his theater in November 2011 Williams confirmed that he had been diagnosed with bladder cancer. After chemotherapy treatment in Houston, Texas, he and his wife moved to a rented home in Malibu, California in order to be closer to cancer specialists in the Los Angeles area.
Williams theater announced that he had returned to Branson in July 2012 following cancer treatment and was "in good spirits and getting stronger every day" and hoped to take the stage as scheduled in September.
On September 25, 2012, Williams died at the age of 84 of bladder cancer.